Trevor Hogg profiles the career of legendary Hollywood filmmaker Steven Spielberg in the second of a five part feature… read part one here.
In an effort to gain access to their son, Ila Fae Holiday and Robert Dent kidnapped a patrolman causing them to be pursued by a massive Texan police convoy; the 1969 incident was a media sensation and served as the inspiration for the theatrical debut of Steven Spielberg. “The Sugarland Express  is partly based on truth and partly on the wonderful cartoon imaginations of two genius writers, Hal Barwood [MacArthur] and Matthew Robbins [Mimic], with whom I collaborated,” stated the acclaimed American filmmaker. “In the true story, about 90 police cars from 11 counties, and God knows how many tank towns and four-way stops fell into this rag-tag formation. Our budget only allowed us 40 police cars, but I had to make it look like 100.” The story is reminiscent of a Hollywood classic by the legendary Billy Wilder. “I loved the Ace in the Hole  similarity with The Sugarland Express; I liked the idea of people rallying behind a media event, not knowing who the characters are or what they’re about but just supporting them because they are on an errand of mercy to get their baby back and that sparks a good deal of good old American sentimentality.” Spielberg added, “The heroes of the picture are the police and I think the villains are the well-wishers who wish a little too much for these people.”
Historical facts gave way to fiction. “In real life it was the Clovis [Poplin] character played by William Atherton [The Day of the Locust] who was the manipulator,” remarked the director who made the character of Lou Jean Poplin, portrayed by Goldie Hawn (Shampoo), as the instigator of the resulting mayhem. “What made her a villain was the lapse in her memory about the child when she began looking for herself and not for the mission.” Shooting the on-screen interactions of Hawn and Atherton turned out to be a challenge for Spielberg as his female lead was best with the first couple of takes while her counterpart improved with each subsequent take. “I had to cover the interior dialogue scenes by giving Goldie her close-up takes one and two and then have her remain in the over-the-shoulder until take eleven or twelve when Bill was hitting his peak.” To help visualize the progression of the story, the rookie moviemaker borrowed a production technique he used on Duel (1971). “I had a graphic artist come into my office and sketch the entire movie on what you would call a Shell Oil map which I was able to tape to one wall of my hotel room in Texas. I could see exactly what the film would look like from a bird’s eye view as it progressed from one police car followed by two, then ten, then fifty; plus all the exciting pit-stops throughout the movie – the chicken-stand scene, the portable potty scene.” There was one major drawback to advance work which Steven Spielberg wanted to avoid. “There’s a danger in being so thoroughly prepared that when you come on the set the next day your thinking is not spontaneous….Marvelous accidents happen on the set – actors have suggestions, technicians have suggestions, a passing stranger may have a suggestion – and I think a director should keep his mind open everyday and not get trapped by the homework he falls in love with on the eve of shooting the actual scene.”
Shot in continuity because of the logistics required to secure the varying number of vehicles needed for the different stages of the story, Steven Spielberg had to orchestrate a number of complicated sequences for the picture. “The stunt I’m proudest of is the KION-TV van capsizing in a mud puddle and sending six reporters flailing into the sky. I’m proud of that stunt because it was the perfect combination of stunt timing by Carey [Loftin], who was driving the news van, and the camera placement, which was ground level at six inches from the edge of the mud puddle with a wide-angle lens.” A dramatic scene had Spielberg mimicking what he referred to as John Milius’ (Flight of the Intruder) “ricochet shot”. “I was determined to have a great show of force in the used car lot shoot-out and to make all of the squib hits much larger than they are in most movies,” explained the Cincinnati native. “When a bullet punctures the glass in The Sugarland Express, not only does the glass spiderweb, but the entire windshield is torn loose from its nuts and holders and goes flying across the lot. And when a tire is hit by a bullet, the whole tire blows up, the hubcap flies off, and the entire car settles in a plume of dust. I really wanted to make this scene among the most violent pyrotechnically; I wanted you to feel that flying glass could do as much harm to the characters as the actual velocity of the screaming bullets.” Much of the dialogue in the film is by 2-way police radio. “John Carter, who was the soundman for The Sugerland Express, rigged the non-working microphones in the police cars to a 5-watt walkie-talkie which enabled an actor to depress the button and talk into his microphone. Then under the floorboards and out of sight of the camera was the actual speaker with Ben Johnson’s response from a paralleling car.” There was a practical reason for this approach. “Had we not used the 2-way police radio method in dubbing, we would have had to filter the sound.”
Unfortunately, the picture was far from being the commercial hit Steven Spielberg had hoped for as it earned $7.5 million in domestic box office receipts. “I think that the main failing of The Sugarland Express was the fact that we came out with two other films thematically similar – Badlands  and Thieves Like Us  – and the audiences were wrapping all three films into one bundle,” reflected Spielberg who also pointed out that the film was overshadowed by the release of major crowd pleasers Serpico, The Exorcist, The Sting, Papillon, and American Graffiti. Looking back on his theatrical debut the filmmaker admitted that a different approach was required. “I would have drawn the whole first half of the picture from his [Captain Tanner] vantage point, from behind the police barricades, from inside his police cruiser.” The second half of the movie he would have been devoted to showing the naiveté of Clovis and Lou Jean by telling the story from inside their car. The Sugarland Express did not go entirely unnoticed as it won Best Screenplay at the 1974 Cannes Film Festival, and Steven Spielberg was nominated for the Palme d’Or.
With the theme of his TV thriller Duel in mind, Spielberg shifted the roadside action to a waterside resort town for his next picture. “What really attracted me to the Jaws  project was in the novel,” revealed the director of the best seller written by Peter Benchley, “the last 120 pages, when they go out to hunt, a sea hunt for the great white shark…The extended drama between these three people who are against each other, and then finally join forces to fight the shark.” An agreement was reached with producer Richard Zanuck. “I said I’d like to do the picture if I could change the first two acts…and then be very true to the book for the last third.” Zanuck agreed and Steven Spielberg went about revising the story so as to make the characters Sheriff Martin Brody (Roy Scheider) and Matt Hooper (Richard Dreyfuss) more sympathetic. “I took the Mafia out of it, I took, not the sex out but the affair [between Brody’s wife and Hooper] because there really is no time for a romantic ichthyologist to show up in town.” The third member of the trio was the wily veteran shark hunter. “My first choice to play [Sam] Quint was Lee Marvin [The Dirty Dozen] but Lee Marvin wasn’t interested. My second choice was Sterling Hayden [Dr. Strangelove], whom I thought would make an amazing Quint. He couldn’t do it either…Then [the producers] Dick Zanuck and David Brown suggested Robert Shaw [A Man for All Seasons].”
“My agent took me over to be introduced to him [Steven Spielberg], and he was having a conversation with a writer named Tracey Keenan Wynn [The Longest Yard],” recalled Roy Scheider (All That Jazz). “And as I approached him, I heard a conversation that went something like this, ‘We’re going to have to make this giant shark come out of the water, and land on a boat, and crack the boat in half!’ And I remember saying to my agent as we walked away, ‘Those guys, they’ve got to be kidding – a giant shark that cracks a boat in half!’ I thought they were loony.” Scheider was not alone in his assessment of the project. “He [Steven Spielberg] told me this movie he wanted to make, and it was really a total shocker,” stated Richard Dreyfuss (The Goodbye Girl), “as a tale, it was a great, exciting story. And I said, ‘Well, this sounds like it’s going to be a great movie. I’d rather watch this movie than shoot it, because it’s going to be a bitch to shoot!’” As it turned out Dreyfuss was right as the mechanical monster kept on malfunctioning, forcing the director to shoot more from the point of view of the aquatic killer. “Whenever you were on the island,” remembered the Oscar-winning actor, “you could hear the radio mikes, and they were always saying, ‘The shark is not working, the shark is not working.’”
“It’s really a movie about our fear of the water,” observed Steven Spielberg. “When you’re out swimming and turn to tread water, half of your body is under the surface and you can’t keep tabs on what’s happening down there around your feet.” Making the principle photography a complicated endeavor was the decision to film in a real setting. “I wouldn’t want to do it in a tank because it wouldn’t be believable, especially today when pictures like The French Connection  and Midnight Cowboy  are shot in a documentary style, on location.” To effectively portray the live action, the filmmaker had a specific place in mind. “The real attraction of Martha’s Vineyard was the fact that it was the only place on the East Coast where I could go twelve miles out to sea and still have a sandy bottom only thirty feet below the surface of the water, where the mechanical shark could function.” There was a significant creative reason for selecting the location. “It was very important that, no matter where my cameras turned, I didn’t want to see land. My fear was the minute the audience saw land they’d say, ‘Look, it is getting pretty intense out there, just turn the boat around and go toward that land we keep seeing in your movie!’”
Other major complications arose during the production of the picture. “It’s the first movie that I had not prepared because I had no time,” stated Steven Spielberg. “The studio wanted to begin with this picture quickly because of the intended Actors Guild strike; they got the film going at least two months prematurely. Suddenly I found myself in Martha’s Vineyard looking at locations and rewriting the script every night with Howard Sackler [The Great White Hope] and then Carl Gottlieb [The Jerk].” There was no relief from the rushed atmosphere for the twenty-nine year old filmmaker. “I couldn’t rehearse with the actors and we had to make their performances come together virtually twenty-four hours before we began shooting or during Take 3 an idea would pop into my head, so we’d get into a huddle, break, and re-shoot it. I didn’t have Robert Shaw until we were almost shooting…We were casting as we went along, Roy was the first person cast in the picture and Roy only had a three week headstart.” Reflecting on his sophomore effort, Spielberg said, ““When I first heard the word Jaws I just thought of a period of my life when I was much younger than I am right now, and I think because I was younger, I was more courageous…or I was more stupid. I’m not sure which. So when I think of Jaws, I think about courage and stupidity. And I think both of these things exist underwater.”
Credited with being the original summer blockbuster, Jaws become the first picture to gross over $100 million in U.S. box office receipts; it went on to achieve a worldwide total of $471 million. Not only audience members were impressed as the seafaring thriller won Academy Awards for Best Editing, Best Original Score, and Best Sound while receiving a nomination for Best Picture. At the BAFTAs, Jaws was lauded with the Anthony Asquith Award for Music and contended for Best Actor (Richard Dreyfuss), Best Director, Best Film, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, and Best Soundtrack. The Golden Globes awarded the movie with Best Original Score, while handing out nominations for Best Director, Best Picture, and Best Screenplay. The Writers Guild of America nominated the $7 million production for Best Adapted Screenplay – Drama and Spielberg received a Directors Guild of America nomination.
“Finding a story that will hold my interest for the nine months it takes to make a motion picture from start to finish, that’s my biggest problem,” confessed Steven Spielberg who also admitted, “The conception of the story is the most exciting part of making a picture for me. The second most exciting part is assembling the film. The most nerve-wracking part of the movie, the process that I most dislike, is the actual shooting and directing of the picture.”
For his third cinematic endeavor, Spielberg delved into the world of “scientific speculation” with his space alien visitation picture Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977). “I was interested in finding out why people looked to the skies and wanted to believe, as I was looking to the skies myself to try to understand what was happening up there that the Air Force and the Government didn’t want to tell us about,” said the director. “A lot of the sightings people have at night are because they never look and they are just discovering the sky; so many reports are easy to explain astronomically, conventionally. There are other reports that are impossible to describe conventionally, but the basic scientific community isn’t ready to change [Albert] Einstein’s rules.”
“Every set-piece was sketched, I had hundreds of little drawings, I pre-cut the entire film and then shot it to cut later,” said Steven Spielberg of his extensive preproduction planning. “There are moments with the people when they improvise and go beyond the script. Essentially, I am not a writer and I don’t enjoy writing. I’d much rather collaborate. I need fresh ideas coming to me, because I can’t send fresh ideas out into space and expect them to return, I need them to bounce off something. So I locked myself away to write Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and when I came out I had a pretty good structure but I wasn’t crazy about some of the characters. The actors helped me shake out the fat and get right down to what the scene was about.” The filmmaker’s decision to write the script himself was made out of necessity. “Everybody wanted to make it much more of a James Bond adventure. Either that or the other side: too personal, too cloistered, with nothing ever really happening, getting into why a man’s life comes apart. It was either all family or all UFOs. Nobody wanted to do both.”
Even with his previous movie being a huge box office success, the executives of the Hollywood studio financing the picture kept close tabs on their investment. “I had to meet with the treasurer of Columbia many times,” stated Steven Spielberg. “I had to meet with each member of the board individually on occasion. We had them down on the set in Mobile, Alabama, looking at our supersets.” Questioned about how he dealt with the pressure, the filmmaker answered, “The worst thing they can do is fire you; they can’t kill you…if you can stand back and find something funny to laugh at – it’s a way of saving your presence of mind, and this is what I do when things get really bad.” Making things easier for Spielberg was the reunion with two key collaborators from Jaws – actor Richard Dreyfuss and music composer John Williams. “Richard is so wound up in a kinetic energy. He’s as close an actor to Spencer Tracy [Judgement at Nuremberg] as exists today. I also think he represents the underdog in all of us.” As for the man who has scored all of his pictures with the exception of The Sugarland Express, the director confessed, “Johnny Williams I have very little control over, except we listen to music together and I’ll show him my film and try to talk it through and give him a sense of my taste in musical atmospheres. But once Johnny sits down at the piano, it’s his movie, it’s his score.” Two newcomers involved in the $20 million production were film editor Michael Kahn and three year old performer Carey Guffey (Stroker Ace). To get the right on-screen expression from Guffey, the filmmaker had to improvise. “I opened a giant gift box and pulled out a toy car in order to get him to react to the UFO approaching his home.”
Advance screening sessions are viewed by the director as being a useful tool in fine tuning a picture. “On Close Encounters, I had a very important decision to make,” explained Steven Spielberg, “whether or not to use the Walt Disney song When You Wish Upon a Star at the end of the movie, with Jiminy Cricket’s actual voice performing it. The only way I could tell was to have two different previews, on two different nights: one night with the song, one night without it. I then analyzed the preview cards very carefully, interviewed the people who left the theatre and made a determination that the audience wanted to be transported to another world along with Richard Dreyfuss as he walked aboard the mothership. They didn’t want to be told the film was a fantasy, and this song seemed to belie some of the authenticity.” Spielberg subsequently nixed the idea. “I didn’t want Close Encounters to end just as a dream.”
Columbia Studio executives had nothing to worry about as the movie tallied $304 million in worldwide box office receipts. The Oscars lauded the science fiction tale with the Academy Award for Best Cinematography along with a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing; it also contended for Best Supporting Actress (Melinda Dillon), Best Art Direction & Set Decoration, Best Director, Best Visual Effects, Best Original Score, Best Editing and Best Sound. At the BAFTAs, Close Encounters of the Third Kind won Best Production Design & Art Direction while also receiving nominations for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Film, Best Editing, Best Screenplay, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor (François Truffant). The Golden Globes nominated the movie for Best Director, Best Picture – Drama, Best Original Score and Best Screenplay; other nominations came from the American Cinema Editors and the Writers Guild of America for Best Edited Feature Film and Best Original Screenplay respectively. Three years later a Special Edition version of Close Encounters of the Third Kind was released with various scenes either shortened or deleted along with an additional 7 minutes of footage. In 1998 the Collector’s Edition cut appeared with a 101 minute long documentary titled The Making of Close Encounters and for the 30th Anniversary Edition (2007) all three theatrical versions of the picture were packaged together.
“The script came to me in a funny way,” remembered Steven Spielberg on how he became involved with 1941 (1979). “I was shooting skeet with John Milius at the Oak Tree Gun Club and these two young protégés of mine and John’s, Robert Zemeckis [I Wanna Hold Your Hand] and Bob Gale [Back to the Future], brought me the first draft to read for an opinion. I don’t think there was one comic line in the entire first draft, but there were some wonderful visionary set pieces. It wasn’t a film from my heart. It wasn’t a project I initiated, dreamed about for ten years, although I have shed blood over it as if it were my own. Rather than a bastard adoption, I like to think of it at times as if it were a project I was forced to take because of my own state of mind.” Commenting on the origins of the screwball action-comedy 1941, Zemeckis stated, “This is a picture that could only be conceived, written, and made by guys who know World War II by seeing it in the movies. None of us were even born when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.” For Spielberg the time was right to lighten the prevailing dark mood reflected in Apocalypse Now (1979). “I felt that after the war in Vietnam and the disillusionment the nation experienced, it was important to remind people that war doesn’t have to be a trip up the river to hell; it could also be a lot of laughs.”
1941 is loosely based on a minor World War II incident when an offshore Japanese submarine fired at some oil wells near Santa Barbara causing a state of panic in Los Angeles resulting in anti-aircraft guns firing at unidentifiable targets. Two distinguished actors were aboard the enemy vessel, Toshiro Mifune (Seven Samurai) as the underwater ship’s commander and Christopher Lee (The Wicker Man) as the high-ranking Nazi officer assigned to be an observer. “I was personally drawn in by sympathy to the Japanese story when I first read the script,” revealed Spielberg. “I said, ‘Here’s my chance to work with the greatest samurai of them all, Toshiro Mifune.’ He came into my house when we first met. He walked in wearing a business suit, with his thinning hair and great big smile, with very little English to his credit, but he had a wonderful interpreter with him. We exchanged gifts. He opened up the book and he said, ‘Now here’s where the script is wrong.’ Our submarine was wrong, according to Toshiro, and we made corrections. So in that sense, Toshiro cleaned up the Japanese act and made them more professional and worthy of our great fear and respect.” Setting the tone for the story is the parody of the opening sequence found in Jaws which sees actress Susan Backlinie reprise her fatal scene as the unsuspecting skinny dipper; this time around she is not surprised by a shark but by a submarine which surfaces with her hoisted aloft on its periscope.
Recruiting actors who could handle detailed choreographed slapstick routines which were the staple of bygone days was not an easy task for Spielberg. “The Chaplins, the Harold Lloyds, the Fatty Arbuckles, the Snub Pollards of yesterday have become the more coifed and slick Steve Martin [Roxanne], Albert Brooks [Broadcast News], Robin Williams [Dead Poets Society], and John Belushi [The Blues Brothers]. There’s more verbal wit in comedy today, with the exception of Belushi, who I think is the most visually prone actor-comedian working in film and theatre. I think he’s amazing. There isn’t anyone like him or who comes close.” Along with Belushi, the director was impressed with the work of another performer. “Dan Aykroyd [Driving Mrs. Daisy] is interesting. He’s a contemporary soldier of our time. As far as I was concerned…he was the comic sergeant-at-arms on 1941. He has one of the fastest minds for situation comedy and funny storytelling, and at the same time he’s very technical. He can tell you all the byproducts of gypsum…and have you roaring with laughter!” Spielberg soon learned you can have too much of a good thing. “No one wanted to be normal – as much as I tried to normalize certain relationships…because realism is the cement floor of comedy. Without it you’re floating in a fantasy netherworld. But everybody watching John Belushi and Dan Aykroyd perform…wanted to be just as crazy. They all wanted to be bigger than the war, bigger than history.”
“There were so many elements that had to be chopped out because the movie was so big, and he had to get down to a manageable time,” reflected Dan Aykroyd. “That’s the big lesson. Before you even start to walk onto a set or think about production, you’ve got to have a solid story that is so clear and vivid that there isn’t much room to deviate and improvise.” Steven Spielberg acknowledges he was out of his league venturing into the genre of comedy. “A comedy is an elusive chameleon-like beast,” observed the filmmaker. “It’s really an area of film that I’m not going to make a habit of.” The director mused, “Hopefully, 1941 is the last movie I make that celebrates the boy in me. And then hopefully I can go on from here and do something more adult-like and perhaps more boring.” The $35 million project turned out to be as wayward as the submarine that sets off the civic mayhem as it earned $92 million worldwide. Entertainment industry publication Variety observed, “Billed as a comedy spectacle, Steven Spielberg’s 1941 is long in spectacle but short on comedy.” Not all was lost for the picture as it was nominated for Best Cinematography, Best Visual Effects and Best Sound at the Academy Awards. Renowned filmmaker Stanley Kubrick produced the golden standard for social satire in 1964. “The brilliance of Dr. Strangelove, and in my humble opinion one of the failings of 1941, is the fact that in Strangelove, the broad, baroque comedy was extra funny, because the reality of the situation was so true to life,” observed Steven Spielberg. “The juxtaposition of docu-drama and crazo-comedy has never worked better in any movie.”
“George and I have known each other forever it seems,” reminisced Spielberg about his close friendship with fellow American filmmaker George Lucas. “We met at a backstage party after a student film festival and we just became friends. Years later, George had finished Star Wars  and was planning to go on a trip that would take him far, far away from its opening weekend; so I joined him in Hawaii. We were just waiting for the grosses to come in [Close Encounters of the Third Kind had also just been released]; it was like waiting for election returns. As we all know, it turned out to be a landslide for George Lucas. George, at that point, just gushed a sigh of relief and then changed the subject from Star Wars to what I was doing next. He asked me, ‘What film would you like to make?’ And I said, ‘Well, you know what I’ve always wanted to do? I’ve always wanted to direct a James Bond picture.’ And George said, ‘I got that beat.’ I asked, ‘What do you mean?’ He replied, ‘I have Raiders of the Lost Ark’  – and that was the beginning of our professional partnership.”
When originally constructing the concept, George Lucas consulted writer-director Phil Kaufman (The Right Stuff). “I told him the story, which at that point was Indiana Smith on the hunt for some kind of supernatural artifact,” said Lucas. “I knew it was set in the 1930s and that the Nazis were in it, because I knew the Nazis had also searched for supernatural artifacts. That’s when Phil told me about the Ark of the Covenant.” When an opportunity arose to work with Clint Eastwood on The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Kaufman left the project. Despite the setback Lucas continued to develop the idea. “George said, “‘Look, this a B-movie,’” recalled Steven Spielberg. “‘They used to make four of them a week, at each studio, for fifteen years from the 1930s into the ’40s.’ He said, ‘Raiders was part of a series of sagas following the exploits of an adventurer –archeologist, not unlike the Tarzan series or, by the same token, not unlike the serials of the ‘50s. The difference would be that our leading man would be involved in mortal adventures and in otherworldly events’. George said, ‘We’ll keep it in the ’30s, but we’ll update it and make it modern, and still keep it old.’ It was great.”
“I found Larry [Kasdan] when I read a script of his that I had Universal buy for me called Continental Divide ,” said Steven Spielberg. “Then I introduced Larry to George, suggesting to George that I wanted Larry to be the screenwriter on Raiders.” In January of 1978 Spielberg, Lucas, and Kasdan had a series of brainstorming sessions together. “We had a tape recorder going and George essentially guided the story process,” remarked Steven Spielberg. “The three of us pitched the entire movie in about five days. Most of the time we were trying to outshoot each other with ideas. George, Larry, and I sat in a room and contrived a very structured story that is eighty percent of what the script turned out to be.” When it came to deciding who would personify the swashbuckling character on the big screen, Spielberg and Lucas were of a particular frame of mind. “Because George and I wanted to discover somebody new, we never thought of the established actors. We were looking for the guy who might be doing a Camel cigarette ad on television and hasn’t had a break yet. So we went through the files and met everybody, from good off-off-Broadway actors to male models, and it was discouraging.” On April 16, 1980 the ideal candidate was selected. “We made the offer to Tom Selleck,” revealed Spielberg. “Of all the people we looked at, over 250 male actors, he was the best. But Tom Selleck had a deal with CBS for a series called Magnum P.I. that was inactive, and once they heard that George and I wanted to star him…CBS put the series into production and preempted our using him.” The solution to the problem was to recruit an actor associated with the original Star Wars trilogy. “Harrison was my idea,” said Steven Spielberg. “We had three weeks to cast the part, with nobody close. But then I saw a rough cut of The Empire Strikes Back , and Harrison was just real good in Empire. So I called George, and I said, ‘He’s right under our nose.’ And George said, ‘I know who you’re going to say.’ And I said, ‘Who?’ He said, ‘Harrison Ford.’”
“One scene in Raiders called for Harrison to fight the swordsman in a duel lasting three minutes,” recalled the director. “I had two days to shoot it in, but Harrison couldn’t stand up because he had a bad case of the Tunisian Touristas. I suggested that he take his gun out and just shoot the swordsman. The solution was quite possibly an inspired compromise. I think and work better when I’m pinned down, more than when I have all the money in the world and all the time and all eyes watching my next movie.” Spielberg’s craftiness in handling on-screen performances extended to the actress playing, Marion Ravenwood, the leading lady and love interest of the picture. “In Raiders, I dropped snakes on Karen Allen’s [Starman] head because I didn’t think she was screaming for real.” Kathleen Kennedy, who ran Spielberg’s then newly formed production company Amblin Entertainment, was impressed with the moviemaker’s foresight during the principle photography for the picture. “When we were doing the big plane sequence in Raiders of the Lost Ark,” recollected Kennedy, “where they have the big fistfight under the wing – the whole time from when Indiana Jones runs out to the wing until the airplane explodes is about a hundred and fifty cuts. They can only go together one way. He knew already in his mind exactly what every single shot would be. He just sees all that. And what happens is he gets impatient, because once he sees it he doesn’t want to lose what he sees.”
Asked about his experience of collaborating with a colleague and a friend, Steven Spielberg answered, “George is a great influence on me in terms of economics and budgets and schedules. He’s a great producer and he’s taught me a lot about creative compromise, about how you don’t have to spend thirty million dollars to get fifteen million dollars on the screen.” The director surrounded himself with familiar faces. “I enjoyed cutting Raiders with Michael [Kahn] more than I’ve ever enjoyed editing any movie before,” enthused Spielberg. “We had a great time, especially in tightening the film until it began to exceed the speed limit for a movie of its nature, and once the film exceeded the design in terms of forward velocity, that’s when I stopped and said, ‘Okay, I’m finished.’ Then I showed it to George, George made some adjustments, and we showed it to Paramount and then released the picture.” The filmmaker also admires his other frequent collaborator. “I marvel at John Williams because he can conduct his own music over and over again. I can’t do that. I’ll dedicate two or three years of my life to one film. But then I want to move on and try something new.” However, Spielberg did break with tradition when it came to a friendly handshake deal. “I made George Lucas a promise that if the first one was successful I would do two more.” The director added, “The only thing that would have gotten me to break my word to George was if everybody’s attitude was, ‘Lets get this over with. We’re going to make money on it anyway. Let’s just play it safe and give the audience exactly what we think they want.’”
“I never saw Raiders with the general public until it opened at the Cinerama Dome after its forty-fourth week in movie theatres,” confided Spielberg. “I was able to watch the picture semi-objectively and to enjoy the film as entertainment. But there was still a feeling of, ‘Why did I do it that way? Why didn’t I do it this way? Gee, why did I use those syphilitic camels?’” Obviously, movie audiences did find any fault with the desert animals as the action-adventure which cost $18 million to make grossed $384 million worldwide. At the Academy Awards, Raiders of the Lost Ark won Best Art & Set Decoration, Best Visual Effects, Best Editing, Best Sound and a Special Achievement Award for Sound Effects Editing; it also contended for Best Cinematography, Best Director, Best Original Score and Best Picture. The BAFTAs awarded the movie with Best Production Design & Art Decoration while nominating it for the Anthony Asquith Award for Film Music, Best Cinematography, Best Editing, Best Film, Best Sound and Best Supporting Actor (Denholm Elliott). Other nominations included one from the Directors Guild of America, the Writers Guild of America for Best Original Screenplay – Comedy and the Golden Globes for Best Director; while the American Cinema Editors handed out the Eddie for Best Edited Feature Film.
Returning to the subject matter explored in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Steven Spielberg decided to produce a screenplay written by John Sayles (Lone Star) about a group of hostile space aliens that attack a remote farmhouse.
Continue to part three.
TheRaider.net is your source for all things Indy, while Mystery Man on Film have more about the Raiders of the Lost Ark story conference, along with a link to download the transcript. For more on the making of the films, be sure to check out J.W. Rinzler’s The Complete Making of Indiana Jones.
Visit the official Dreamworks website here.
Five Essential Films of Steven Spielberg
Short Film Showcase – Amblin’ (1968)
Movies for Free! Duel (1971)
Trevor Hogg is a freelance video editor and writer who currently resides in Canada.